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Rugby assault case ends with plea bargain for two defendants

reporters@samoanews.com

Two of the four men from the Nu’uuli Rugby team charged in connection with the assault of a referee last year have entered into a plea agreement with the government.

Iopu Siolo and Pelenato Puautolu entered guilty pleas, while cases for co-defendants Fuata’i Tago and Pene Wells were postponed.

Siolo and Puautolu were each charged with one count of first degree assault and misdemeanor public peace disturbance. In the plea agreement with the government, Siolo and Puautolu both pleaded guilty to second degree assault which was amended from the first degree, while the government moved to dismiss the remaining charge.

Second degree assault, a class D felony, carries a jail term of up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. In the plea agreement that was read, Siolo and Puauto admitted that they each kicked referee Ponifasio Vasa during a rugby game which fractured the referee’s nose and caused a concussion. Siolo and Puautolu’s plea agreement hearings were held separately.

According to the plea agreement that was read in court, the government and the defendants agreed to recommendations that the defendants should receive a probated sentence with detention limited to time served.

The defendants further agreed to be responsible for restitution jointly and severally. The defendants were also asked to understand and accept that sentencing recommendations are not binding on the court, which has sole responsibility for deciding an appropriate sentence within the limits of the law.

The defendants also said they understood and accepted that in the event that the court decrees a different sentence than that recommended by counsel, they will not be allowed to come back and withdraw their guilty plea.

Chief Justice Michael Kruse asked the defendants if they recklessly caused serious injuries to Ponifasio, and the pair replied yes. He accepted the plea agreement and dismissed the public peace disturbance charges against the pair.

Kruse scheduled sentencing for the defendants on June 22, 2012 and he also ordered a pre-sentence report from the probation office on this matter.

Lawyers for co-defendants Tago and Wells asked the court for a continuance, saying that additional time is needed because they are close to resolution on these matters.

Tago’s case has been scheduled to be heard again this Thursday, May 3, while Wells’ case is set for next Monday.

According to the government’s case during a rugby game match where Ponifasio Vasa was the referee, the defendants were upset with his call and then beat him.  He was beaten over a call that upset the defendants.

All four defendants are still in custody since their arrest in August of last year. The other co-defendant in this matter, Selefuti Tago (brother of codefendant Fuata’i Tago) pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge, and was released from jail in December 2011.



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